Our last day of our Steampunk Appreciation Weeks is dedicated to Steampunk Romance. Earlier today we posted an article by Heather Massey, from The Galaxy Express. Now we open the floor to Meljean Brook, romance writer extraordinaire, whose Guardian series is one of Ana’s top favorites. The author is about to start a brand new Steampunk Romance series, The Iron Seas, which combines nanotech and pirates with a gritty, gaslit Victorian atmosphere. Ana reviewed the novella which opens the series, Here There Be Monsters a few days ago and LOVED it.
She is here today to talk about Steampunk Romance and her approach to writing it and why she thinks we will love it:
Steampunk Romance: Because ‘Eureka!’ should be followed by ‘F#@k, Yeah!’
One of my favorite Hell, yeah! moments in any SF movie takes place in Aliens, when Ripley straps herself into the loader to face the alien queen. You probably know that scene, and her classic line … and you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about an SF movie when I should be talking about steampunk.
Since I’ve announced that I’m writing a steampunk romance series, one question that I’ve received more than any other is: What is steampunk romance? And there are rules and definitions surrounding it that can be debated by readers and writers until a mad scientist invents a gargantuan automaton that crushes us all beneath its steel feet – but as far as I’m concerned, steampunk romance is about writing a story exactly like that scene in Aliens. It’s about getting to that fist pumping, Hell YEAH! moment when everything comes together and the characters you’re rooting for kick some ass.
Not always literally kicking ass, of course. Maybe it’s outthinking the bad guy or building a gargantuan automaton that’s bigger and smarter than the other guy’s. Maybe it’s two lovers overcoming society’s barriers or trauma in their past. Whatever rules surround steampunk and define it, a great steampunk romance has the same heart as every other great romance: fantastic characters and an engaging story.
It’s not the gadgets.
Don’t get me wrong, the gadgets are a hell of a lot of fun. But they’re like Ripley’s loader: the machine itself is nifty, but the payoff comes because Ripley is in that machine – a machine that represents the damage the aliens did to her career, how they turned her into an emotional wreck, until she had to take a job using a freight loader. I love other characters in that movie – Hicks, Bishop, Valdez – but if anyone else had gotten into that loader, I wouldn’t have loved the movie or that moment as much as I do.
And the more I read the question What is steampunk romance?, the more I’m realizing that a lot of readers are asking another question behind it:
Am I going to love it?
Well, I hope so. But for those who are unfamiliar with steampunk and/or haven’t read many books in the genre, I understand why this question keeps coming up: there’s a lot of talk about the tech, the science, the worldbuilding. Questions of how the elements of the story might make it steampunk, or how the elements mean that it’s not steampunk – and is there enough of that element? It’s very easy to come away with the impression that the tech and the alternate history are all there is to steampunk.
And although you might run across an element of the story that makes you think, “Hey, that’s pretty neat!” … well, quite honestly, ‘neat’ doesn’t keep you up until 3am. ‘Neat’ might earn a passing mention while you’re at dinner with your friends, but it doesn’t make you shove that book into their hands.
Just like everyone else, I don’t want to read a story that’s just ‘neat.’ I don’t want to write a story that’s ‘neat.’ I don’t just want to think Eureka! I want shout F#@k YEAH! I want the story to grab my guts and twist – and get a good hold of my heart, too. Just like any good romance does.
But am I going to love it?
Okay, okay. It’s not fair to brush aside the tech like that, as if it doesn’t really matter. It does, a lot – and I’m one of those writers who can’t just tack on a brass plate and call it steampunk; I have to make the worldbuilding integral to the characters and story. But that doesn’t mean the worldbuilding overshadows the characters or the story – quite the opposite, actually – because behind those gadgets and giant robots are the characters who created them.
As fun as the gadgets are, steampunk doesn’t let us forget that the brains behind them were amazing. Tech can be used to dehumanize and to turn people into cogs, but it can also be a celebration of guts and ingenuity and innovation. Steampunk worlds are populated with bold characters who forge ahead, exploring physical and mental landscapes despite danger and fear, and they’re worth cheering for. The gadgets might inspire wonder, but deeper than that is the realization that someone created this, and that’s far, far more marvelous than the giant robot. It’s like someone smashes together Romanticism and the Enlightenment into one rough and riveted body, and not every piece will fit, but holy mama!—look what they managed to build.
Not that it’s all about happiness and rainbows and gold stars. There are some bad guys, too, who are just as astonishingly ingenious and innovative … and that’s why our heroes and heroines have to be, too. We want them to give us that Hell, yeah! moment, but they won’t do that if the gadgets are more interesting than they are.
And if the gadgets and the worldbuilding make the characters more interesting? It’s a win/win.
So am I going to love it?
Like every subgenre, it depends. I like paranormal romances and historicals, but I don’t like every one. I don’t normally like contemporary comedies, but I could name exceptions.
…but that is the boring, careful answer, isn’t it? So let’s just say,
Hell, yeah! You’ll love it.
Hell, yeah! I am sure we will!
Want a taste of Steampunk Romance? Meljean Brook has a brand new copy of Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti ( one of Thea’s favorite Steampunk books, reviewed here) to giveaway.
A steampunkish romantic fantasy set in Ondinium, a city that beats to the ticking of a clockwork heart. Taya, a metal-winged courier, can travel freely across the city’s sectors and mingle indiscriminately among its castes. A daring mid-air rescue leads to involvement with two scions of an upperclass family and entanglement in a web of terrorism, loyalty, murder, and secrets.
In order to enter, leave a comment on this post – you can even ask the author any question about her series worldbuilding, she will be around to answer them. Contest is open to ALL and will run till Saturday April 24th 11:59pm (PST). Good luck!
MaryApril 17, 2010 at 4:08 am
Haven’t tried steampunk yet myself but I’d love to give it a shot! Clockwork Heart sounds great.
JaneenApril 17, 2010 at 4:44 am
Looking forward to the novella… and I’d love to read Clockwork Heart!
Twimom227April 17, 2010 at 5:27 am
Thank you for this great piece! I am new to steampunk. I am a huge Meljean fan and I’m looking forward to trying out steampunk in the new anthology. I think I will enjoy and expect a “hell ya” or two. This post was extremely informative and I don’t have any steampunk questions right now.
I want to share that I was reading this piece with my 4-yr old on my lap. She saw Meljean’s photo and asked if that was me (I have similar hair color). When I told her know she asked if she was my friend. 4-yr-olds are great!
KatiApril 17, 2010 at 5:33 am
Hi Meljean! I’m on the record as really not caring for steampunk. In fact, I read Clockwork Heart as a Guest Dare for Ana and Thea, and I had to email Thea to get her to explain to me what the heck was going on, which made me feel like a remedial reading student, LOL!
All that being said, I’m intrigued by the fact that it’s *you* writing the romance. And thus, I’m taking another crack at it with your book. I’m actually really looking forward to it because Ana really seems to love it, and she’s never steered me wrong. Wish me luck! 😆
CindyApril 17, 2010 at 5:52 am
Hello Mrs Brook,
Your point of view is really interesting. When you said that the technology cannot hide the eventual lack of interesting characters or worldbuilding, I completely agree (well, that is not restricted to steampunk!)
Ana already got me convinced to discover the world of “Here there be monsters”, I will look forward to more steampunk romance !
Zita HildebrandtApril 17, 2010 at 5:53 am
I’ve been enjoying the steampunk I’ve been reading, so bring it on! Frankly, when I like a particular author, I really don’t care what genre they are writing in, I will buy it because I know I will enjoy it. Good writers write good, no matter what =). Okay, that’s probably a generalization, but true for the most part.
Carolyn Crane (CJ)April 17, 2010 at 6:57 am
As usual, you make such good points. Honestly, any genre can be wonderful if the characters are compelling. I am SO looking forward to Iron Seas! Yippee! Oh, don’t enter me.
What you wrote here makes me think about a Bruce Lee quote. When asked which was the best martial arts system, or whether this or that fighter was any good, because he was in this or that system – as you see, I don’t remember the question, but Bruce Lee goes, “it’s not the system that makes the man, it’s the man that makes the system.” In a way, I think that’s true of authors working in a genre, and it’s true of characters inside a book, too.
JuliaApril 17, 2010 at 7:05 am
Looking forward to the novella!
And the book looks great- count me in for the giveaway. I’m really crossing my fingers for this one. Thanks for the great opportunity, guys! I’m in love with Steampunk!
ChachicApril 17, 2010 at 7:07 am
I haven’t read any steampunk books but I’m definitely going to try them because of all the buzz created by your Steampunk Week. 🙂 Clockwork Heart looks like a good place to start! I’m also going to check out Meljean Brook’s steampunk romance when it’s finished.
Moonsanity (Brenda H.)April 17, 2010 at 7:33 am
“I want the story to grab my guts and twist – and get a good hold of my heart, too.” This is SO true! I think it’s why I love dark urban fantasy– it’s the twisting of my guts:)
I’m wondering if the research aspect was more difficult for you with steampunk? Did you feel overwhelmed at any point with the science and the gadgets?
ChristaApril 17, 2010 at 7:54 am
An easy question & a writing question. : ) First, I’m fascinated by steampunk but I just can’t seem to get into any of the few books I’ve picked up. Any favorite authors you can recommend in the genre? (Besides yours, which sounds lovely & should go on my To Buy list if I don’t win). 🙂
Second: Do you do your worldbuilding before you sit down to write or do you develop it as you go? If the first, how do you work in all the details without just info dumping? And if the second, does your world develop more detail as your plot does? Or (so many options!) do you depend on revising more than your first draft for worldbuilding details?
Thanks. Hope they’re fun questions for you to answer.
LexiApril 17, 2010 at 8:31 am
I also have a world building question. How do you write so that you do not have too much world and have to remove some of it in order to focus more on story/ charecters?
Alasdair StuartApril 17, 2010 at 8:43 am
Book sounds great:) I’d love to give it a shot.
NaomiApril 17, 2010 at 8:47 am
I read the full excerpt of the novella and absolutely loved it. I’m a big steampunk fan. I’m so, so excited to read it, August cannot get here soon enough.
My question is, were there any aspects of the tech or worldbuilding that played a particularly significant part in character development, rather than plot? Something that really influenced the way you portrayed a character or characters.
MariskaApril 17, 2010 at 9:06 am
I haven’t read any of Meljean Brook’s books 😀
and really like to read the taste of Steampunk Romance by her ! Enter me in !
MarieCApril 17, 2010 at 9:11 am
I really enjoyed your novellas in ‘Must love Hellhounds’ and ‘Hotspell’, and I have a couple of your Guardian books.
I’ll admit that I’m just barely tapping into the steampunk genre, having only read a few books.
I was wondering how much research you do to make the technical stuff sound ‘real’ (not that I could tell the difference).
Thanks and can’t wait to read your new series!
ErinApril 17, 2010 at 9:21 am
I’ve been looking forward to all the new steampunk romances about to hit the shelves.
I have a quick question: what came first, the world or the characters?
katiebabsApril 17, 2010 at 9:24 am
I am waffling because I havent’t read an actual steampunk book, unless you count Gail Carriger’s books, but then again they are more paranormal with steampunk elements.
I am all for kick ass heroes taking down the bad guys with awesome gadgets.
Hopefully you can change my mind.
SarahApril 17, 2010 at 9:24 am
I’ve been meaning to read this. My question would be – how much research did you have to do before writing the book? And for how long?
ChristineApril 17, 2010 at 10:36 am
Loved your commentary and I’m really looking forward to your upcoming steampunk romance. I think your interpretation of the genre is right on the money as to what I expect steampunk romance to be. Several trusted readers have recommended Clockwork Heart, but I have yet to read it. I’d love the opportunity to read it while waiting for your upcoming novel.
SnazelApril 17, 2010 at 10:47 am
Ah-HA! I was trying to figure out why I loved Steampunk so much, and I think it is the crazy inventiveness of the world. We’re forced to look at technological things sideways, which makes us see just how incredible they are. Which is to say that I’m really looking forward to seeing what you do with the world in Iron Seas, Ms. Brook. 😀
MaryKApril 17, 2010 at 11:02 am
I can’t believe we have to wait four months to read Here There Be Monsters! The Smugglers are getting way too good at the book pimping. 😉
PamraApril 17, 2010 at 11:03 am
It’s about time we got away from Vamps and to something more unique and innovative.Well done!
Vero HApril 17, 2010 at 11:04 am
I love all of Meljeans’s work and I can not wait read her Steampunk
Erika (Jawas Read, Too)April 17, 2010 at 11:05 am
When you reviewed this book for the last Steampunk week, I added it to my wishlist. Of course I’d love to read it!
I loved this post. The “Hell yeah!” reaction is really what makes a good book into a great and memorable one – the type you recommend to all your friends or purchase and hand out like candy at Christmas and birthdays. I’m all for an author who understands this. It makes me excited that Meljean Brook is approaching this as a reader and a writer! I’ll definitely be looking forward to the new series. 🙂
CybercliperApril 17, 2010 at 11:38 am
Hi Meljean – huge fan and I’m definitely looking forward to Burning Up and the Iron Duke! This will be my first trip into the steampunk world and I’m definitely looking forward to it.
HannahApril 17, 2010 at 11:44 am
I’m still hesitantly getting into steampunk, so I’d love to try Clockwork Heart, it looks really interesting! 🙂
Tiffany M.April 17, 2010 at 11:51 am
I have read a couple of your novellas and have your first novel in my TBA pile (I bought it when I realized I read your novellas the fastest/couldn’t put them down out of the whole anthologies). I haven’t really read steampuck, though I do love the idea of it and have seen some anime/movies with with the elements. I am looking forward to your new series a bunch!
Lisa BoggsApril 17, 2010 at 12:24 pm
🙂 I have no idea if i’d like it or love it or hate it but i’m always willing to try something different and new to me so i’d definitely try it out for size. lol Recently I’ve been finding alot of books that are totally different from things I’ve read before and i’m loving it. I like a story that keeps you guessing throughout.
RoxyApril 17, 2010 at 12:39 pm
I’ve never read d steampunk novel but I think I would like it. Sounds like a promising new genre.
On another note, I adore the cover for Clockwork Heart!
Donna SApril 17, 2010 at 12:50 pm
Thanks for sharing today! Really looking forward to reading your entry into the newish interesting world of steampunk.
ThisViewOfMineApril 17, 2010 at 12:56 pm
I’ve never read steampunk. This looks like a good place to start!
Sullivan McPigApril 17, 2010 at 3:19 pm
I love Steampunk. I think it’s the overall mood of Steampunk that does it. Haven’t read a steampunk romance sofar I must confess
Barbara ElnessApril 17, 2010 at 3:56 pm
I’ve read a few steampunk books, including Katie MacAlister’s Steamed and Gail Carriger’s Soulless. I’m reading Gail’s Changeless right now and I have Crimson & Steam by Liz Maverick waiting to read. I’m fascinated with the ingenuity of gadgets and the world building. I’d read these books whether there were romance in them or not, but it certainly does add to the enjoyment. I’m looking forward to checking out Meljean’s new series, I know she’ll do a fantastic job.
MeljeanApril 17, 2010 at 4:28 pm
Hi to everyone! Sorry it’s taken me so long to pop in — I was just at a readers’ luncheon, and at my table, one of the main questions was: What is steampunk? It’s been really fascinating (and difficult!) trying to explain the concept without having many books to point at, but the interest and enthusiasm for the genre is really heartening.
Thank you for dropping by, and your wonderful comments. I see a lot of questions, and I’m going to try to get to those one at a time, so please forgive any long, long comments, and also forgive that I’m going to be posting them one after another and take over Ana and Thea’s space here 😀
Moonsanity asked, “I’m wondering if the research aspect was more difficult for you with steampunk? Did you feel overwhelmed at any point with the science and the gadgets?”
The research aspect is a LOT different from my Guardian series research. In the Guardian series, the worldbuilding is all pretty much straight out of my head, based on mythology and info gleaned from books and movies throughout the years. And although I’ll have to look up certain things — for example, my next book is set in Rome, and so I researched a ton of stuff about the city, from average humidity to cost of living to types of street paving — the rules of the world, the characters’ powers, and so on are all solid in my brain. I don’t have to research why my vampires fall asleep at sunrise, for example…but I do have to look up sunrise/sunset timetables for the day and location that the scene is supposedly taking place.
The steampunk series has been much different. There are some things that I’m making up (a steam- and electric-powered submersible shaped like a kraken, for example) but the technology behind them *isn’t* made up, and so I have to know how it could plausibly work if it WAS real.
That doesn’t mean I could go out and build one myself. And I don’t want to spend a couple of scenes describing how something like that would be built, anyway (if it could.) Much more important is getting the image and the idea of the technology across to the readers — not explain how it works. Trying to do that would be incredibly overwhelming, I think, and not just for me, but also for the reader.
So I try to avoid that. Anytime that I think that I’m getting buried in the gadgets and the science as I write, I step back and realize: Okay, this means my readers probably will be feeling buried, too. Then I make myself stop.
MeljeanApril 17, 2010 at 5:29 pm
Christa asked, “An easy question & a writing question. : ) First, I’m fascinated by steampunk but I just can’t seem to get into any of the few books I’ve picked up. Any favorite authors you can recommend in the genre? (Besides yours, which sounds lovely & should go on my To Buy list if I don’t win).”
This is hard, and the simple reason is… there just isn’t a lot of it. Most of the books that I would name as influences (China Mieville’s work, Neal Stephenson) have steampunk-type elements, but aren’t necessarily steampunk. Other books that definitely are steampunk are hard to recommend because they’re difficult to get into (for example, THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE — my reaction was very close to Ana’s, who reviewed it here).
So one of the reasons I’ve wanted to write steampunk romance for so long was because I wanted to read it … and there just wasn’t any. And there wasn’t much steampunk in general. There were plenty of novels that were kind-of like it (I think this is why THE ANUBIS GATES is labeled steampunk so often; it’s easy to point to that book and say, “Steampunk is kind-of like that.”)
And although there have been a lot more steampunk works coming out recently … I haven’t read them. A couple of years ago, when I got the go-ahead from my editor to write the series, I stopped reading steampunk novels. I’ve heard amazing things about so many books (many of them have been reviewed here) but can’t personally recommend them, because I haven’t had a chance to read them. They are sitting on my shelves instead, lost and forlorn, and I’m dying to read them…but I won’t let myself until I’m well into my series. ::sigh::
I can wholeheartedly recommend graphic novels like Girl Genius and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, though. Loved them.
Second: Do you do your worldbuilding before you sit down to write or do you develop it as you go? If the first, how do you work in all the details without just info dumping? And if the second, does your world develop more detail as your plot does? Or (so many options!) do you depend on revising more than your first draft for worldbuilding details?
Worldbuilding is a mixture of working it all out before and building it as I go. For this steampunk series, I have maps, alternate histories for several different nations, trade routes — basically, all of the big-picture stuff worked out. I know which monsters (for lack of a better word) populate different parts of the world, so if I take my characters there, I know they’ll be facing certain dangers in addition to whatever human dangers pop up…and since that worldbuilding has been set, it’s kind of a cheat if my characters *don’t* face that danger. So there are many different aspects of the world that are set in stone before I write a single word.
But I also give myself some wiggle room. If I want to write a story about, say, a moon-worshipping cult of phrenologists determined to create a utopia by replacing everyone’s skulls with steel bowls pitted with craters that mimic the lunar surface, I can do that. I’ll just set it somewhere that hasn’t been mentioned before, make sure that the history of the cult and the location fits with the rest of the world, and I’m good to go.
As for not-infodumping, I find that letting my characters interact with the world is the best way to get the information across. And then if I need to insert a paragraph along the way that explains the history or how something works, that’s okay — it’s just a paragraph, maybe two. Hopefully, it will all come out organically as the story progresses.
Example from The Iron Duke (this is the first three pages of chapter one):
Mina hadn’t predicted that sugar would wreck the marchioness of Hartington’s ball; she’d thought the dancing would. Their hostess’s good humor had weathered them through the discovery that fewer than forty of her guests knew the steps, however, and they’d survived the first awkward quadrilles. But as the room grew warmer, the laughter louder, and the gossiping more vigorous, the refreshment table set the First Annual Victory Ball on a course for disaster.
Which meant Mina was enjoying the event far more than she’d expected to.
Not that it wasn’t as grand as everyone had said it would be; the restoration of Devonshire House had cost Hartington, and it showed. Candle-studded chandeliers displayed everyone in the great ballroom to their best advantage. Discrete gas lamps highlighted the enormous paintings gracing the room but their smoke had not yet smudged the silk-papered walls. Human musicians played in the gallery, and their violins did sound sweeter than the mechanical instruments Mina was accustomed to—and much sweeter than the hacking coughs from forty of the guests.
Nine years after England’s victory over the Horde, the bounders who’d returned to London had decided to hold a ball to celebrate their newfound freedom, though they had shed no blood to gain it. They’d charitably included all of the peers who had little to their names but their titles.
At first glance, Mina could detect little distinction between the guests. The bounders spoke with flatter accents, and their women’s dresses exposed less skin, but everyone’s togs were at the height of New World fashion. Mina suspected, however, that forty of the guests could not begin to guess how dear those new togs were to the rest of the company.
And they probably could not anticipate how stubborn the rest of the company could be, despite their thirst and hunger.
Near the southern wall of the ballroom, Mina sat with her friend and waited for the entertainment to begin. Considering Felicity’s condition, she might be the one to provide it. Pale blue satin covered her friend’s hugely pregnant abdomen. With such a belly to feed, Mina couldn’t see how Felicity wasn’t constantly ravenous, consuming everything in her path. If no sugarless cakes were available, she might start with the bounders.
“If it has taken Richmond this long, he hasn’t found anything.” Beneath intricately curled blond hair that had made Mina burst into laughter when she had first seen it that evening, Felicity’s gaze searched the crowd for her husband. With a sigh, she turned to regard her friend. “Oh, Mina. You are too amused. I doubt anyone will break into fisticuffs.”
“You think it’s an insult to supply sweet and strong lemonade? To stack cakes like towers?” Felicity rubbed her belly and looked longingly toward the towers. Mina supposed they were supposed to have been demolished by now, symbolic of England’s victory over the Horde, but they still stood tall. “Surely, they did not realize how strongly we felt about it.”
“Or they realized, but thought we must be shown like children that we can eat imported sugar without being enslaved.”
Two hundred years ago, the Horde had hidden their nanoagents in the tea and sugar like invisible bugs, and traded it on the cheap. The Horde had no navy, and even though Europe had fled before the Horde, Britain was protected by water and a strong fleet of ships. And so for years, they’d traded tea and sugar, and Britain had thought itself safe.
Until the Horde had activated the bugs.
Now, no one born in England trusted sugar unless it came from beets grown in British soil and processed in one of the recently built refineries—and no one had enough money to pay for the luxury, anyway. New to England, beet sugar was as precious as gold was to the French, and Horde technology was to the smugglers in the Indian Ocean and South Seas.
“You judge them too harshly, Mina. This ball itself is goodwill. And it must have been a great expense.” Felicity looked around almost despairingly, as if it pained her to think of how much had been spent.
“Hartington can obviously afford it. Look how many candles.” Mina lifted her chin, gesturing at the chandelier.
“Even your mother uses candles.”
That wasn’t the same. Gas cost almost nothing; candles, especially wax tapers of good quality, rivaled sugar as a luxury. Her mother used candles during her League meetings, but only so the dim light would conceal the worst of the wear. Repeated scouring of the walls removed the smoke that penetrated every home in London, but had worn the paper down to the plaster. Rugs had been walked threadbare at the center. The sofa hadn’t been replaced since the Horde had invaded England. But at Devonshire House, there was no need for candles to forgive what brighter gas lamps revealed.
In the next page, I use desserts to explain how the northern American continent has been settled in this alternate history, and it all flows out of their conversation now.
So I have an infodump in here (actually, a lot of little ones), but as long as it comes from the characters — not robotic recitation, but genuine character interactions — it doesn’t feel so infodumpy, IMO. In three pages, we learned a lot about this world … and just as importantly, we learned a lot about Mina, and how she thinks and sees that world. If I had presented this scene from Felicity’s point-of-view, it would have read much, much differently.
So I think the best way to get all of the info you need across to the reader without drowning them in it is to color it with your character’s voice and to make certain that your characters are engaging with the information in some way.
MeljeanApril 17, 2010 at 5:57 pm
Lexi asked, “I also have a world building question. How do you write so that you do not have too much world and have to remove some of it in order to focus more on story/ charecters?”
This is something I’m continually struggling with in both of my series, but I think that it comes down to: Make sure you’re always, ALWAYS writing through your character’s eyes. And if you begin to add stuff that really doesn’t matter to your character … well, then it really doesn’t matter.
One of the hardest things to accept when writing is that a lot of the great stuff we come up with just doesn’t matter and doesn’t fit in the story we’re telling. The moment those things begin to become the focus of the story, there’s something wrong.
It’s not always something you notice on the first draft, or the second. But as you’re revising and as worldbuilding stuff comes up within the narrative, it doesn’t hurt to ask: Does this information matter to the story? Do I need to include this information to help illuminate character? If I take it out, will the reader be lost?
If the answer is “No” … as much as it hurts, you just have to cut those babies out.
Bianca FApril 17, 2010 at 5:59 pm
Im still new to steampunk, but yours sounds like something i would be comfortable with, and the cover is stunning! please enter me! 🙂
EmilyApril 17, 2010 at 6:24 pm
I’m really looking forward to this, especially since it has nanotechnology. Not something I normally associate with Steampunk but I’m definitely interested in how it could work.
Evy ValdezApril 17, 2010 at 6:57 pm
i loved your guardian series so i am sure your steampunk is going to be great!
Maya M.April 17, 2010 at 7:04 pm
“….bold characters, forging ahead…” I’m all for that!
having loved the ‘Hellhounds’ novella with a uniquely visually impaired hero, I wonder what impairment in a steampunk world would look like:
allergy to steam? disability of the finger used to depress valves? fear of dirigible flying? *g*
MeljeanApril 17, 2010 at 7:23 pm
Naomi asked, My question is, were there any aspects of the tech or worldbuilding that played a particularly significant part in character development, rather than plot? Something that really influenced the way you portrayed a character or characters.
Oh my gosh, yes. Except for little things — like the wiregrams people use to communicate — every bit of tech should influence character in some way, whether by influencing the society that they lived in and therefore their worldview, or influencing them directly. And hopefully everything else should illuminate something about character, if possible.
For example — the Horde’s nanotechnology controlled the emotions and actions of people in England for two hundred years. It wasn’t complete control, but it was enough for the people living under the Horde to feel and to know they’ve been suppressed in so many ways. And so when the Horde’s control is broken, there are severe emotional repercussions for many different characters.
Some of them just want to repress those emotions again, especially pain, and so there are tons of opium addicts. Others (like Mina) have deep-seated fears of anyone controlling them … but at the same time, her lack of control in the initial rush of freedom scared her so much that *she* has trouble letting go now.
But there are more issues — for example, many people in the underclass were used as slave labor, and were modified with machinery grafted to their bodies. Some characters hate it and themselves; others love it.
Or there’s the effect of creating machinery — one of Ivy’s internal conflicts in the novella is that she’s essentially creating a monster for a man who is a monster, too. The change in her relationship to the machine reflects much of the change in her relationship to Mad Machen, and her self-confidence, as well.
So basically, I think it’s fair to say that a good part of the technology’s purpose is to provide conflict and to reveal character. And that’s very much what I mean when I say that steampunk isn’t about the gadgets. The tech is necessary, yes — but it’s not just there as part of the plot, or to provide a fun fighting robot when the bad guy needs to be defeated, or an airship when our characters need to get somewhere. It does all of that, sure — but it *should* do more.
MeljeanApril 17, 2010 at 7:44 pm
Marie C asked, “I was wondering how much research you do to make the technical stuff sound ‘real’ (not that I could tell the difference).”
I don’t know if it sounds real 😀 I do a lot of research until I feel as if I’m familiar enough with the concepts and the mechanics involved that I can use the terms without messing up too badly … but it’s impossible to know for certain until you get an e-mail from a steam-engine mechanic who tells you that you’ve put a valve and a piston in the wrong order.
I do think that when characters speak with a voice of authority, it goes a long way toward seeming authentic — and part of that is refraining from overexplaining. If someone knows their stuff, they develop a certain language and shorthand to talk about it, and they don’t stop to show Slot A and Tab B fitting together. And if the voice sounds authentic and authoritative enough, we — the readers — might not know how something works, but we’ll believe that the characters do.
MeljeanApril 17, 2010 at 7:52 pm
Erin asks, “I have a quick question: what came first, the world or the characters?”
Ummmm….I can’t remember, honestly. Mina was the first character, I know that. I have scribbles in a notebook where she’s next to a dead body, and she’s got these little tendrils that come out of her skin and stab into a dead body, and the reads the ‘ghost’ that is captured by his nanotech.
None of that happens now, because the world evolved from those first scribbles — but from the very first the world and the character I was creating were intertwined.
For other characters, the world is coming first. I think: What type of person are we going to meet next, and why are they like that? And the ‘why are they like that’ part is almost always explained by some aspect of the worldbuilding.
MeljeanApril 17, 2010 at 7:59 pm
Sarah asks, “I’ve been meaning to read this. My question would be – how much research did you have to do before writing the book? And for how long?”
Oh, wow. This is one of those questions that is almost impossible to answer, because there are really two answers.
One: 8 years or so, when I first began thinking of writing steampunk. Since then, I’ve just been collecting little bits of info here and there, and mentally filing them away. That’s also when I slowly began to develop the world, but it was a rough, sketchy world without a lot of detail.
Two: 6 months+ ongoing. After getting the contract for the series, I began to nail those details down. While writing one of my Guardian books last year, I spent every evening reading and working on the worldbuilding, until I had something really solid.
But even now, I’m still researching and looking stuff up as I need it.
heatwave16April 17, 2010 at 9:36 pm
Hi Meljean!!! Do you think that the steampunk genre will continue to gain ‘steam’? 😆
LillysWorkshopApril 17, 2010 at 10:55 pm
Love that steampunk is gaining more and more steam! It’s great to see so many heroines in this subgenre.
Carol ThompsonApril 17, 2010 at 11:52 pm
There seems to be a lot of discussion about what is steampunk and what is not going on all over the blogosphere.
My guess is that at this moment there is no real definition for it and it is still evolving.
Seems sofar it has to have steam driven machinery, use of wind or gases, be set in Victorian times or thereabouts and I am still not sure what the “punk” part of the title requires?
All the best with your new book.
Bella F.April 18, 2010 at 12:29 am
I’m ready to love it Meljean! The cover is beautiful & I like the idea of mechanical/metallic wings leading to her being a courier.
My question is:
I just wanna make sure I have it right & understand the order of the series–is Clockwork Heart book 1 in “The Iron Seas” series? And should the short story “Here There Be Monsters” be read before it? Will I miss out on a lot of stuff if I don’t get to read the short story?
ChasityApril 18, 2010 at 2:32 am
The more and more I read the Steampunk reviews the more I want to try it out!!=) I am a huge romance fan so will be making a list from your reads with a few steampunk goodies!=)
Jenni @ Falling Off The ShelfApril 18, 2010 at 4:46 am
I remember the review to Clockwork Heart, and thought it looked very interesting. It’s been on my wish-list ever since, but unfortunately I haven’t had the funds to purchase a lot of the books I’ve wanted.
I’d love to win.
Thanks for the great contest, and loved Brook’s guest post!
rituApril 18, 2010 at 5:26 am
I just read clockwork heart a few weeks back aft Ana and Thea did the Steampunk week. It really fascinated me and I went on a shopping spree to buy some of the books they recommended. Thanks guys for introducing me to the genre. I’m slowly going through the other books.
Meljean, I’m looking forward to the anthology. I recently started reading your Guardian Series (I’m not really an adventurous reader – It took me a year (or two) or so after i heard about the series to actually start reading them!) and I love love love it.
Jonathan RoseApril 18, 2010 at 6:46 am
I’ve been reading steampunk for decades, even before I knew what it was. Would love to read this book, too. Sounds fascinating.
JadeApril 18, 2010 at 7:10 am
Hell yeah, this book sounds like a blast! 😀
I’ve never really touched romance books myself but maybe this’ll be my rude awakening? 🙂
Please count me in!
Brittany LandgrebeApril 18, 2010 at 7:42 am
Oh I’ve been hearing about this book for so long, and I soooo want to read it! I’ve just been getting into steampunk works and CLOCKWORK HEART sounds amazing!
Thanks so much!
StacieApril 18, 2010 at 7:46 am
I am really looking forward to some steampunk romance. I love steampunk, I love romance – what better combination. I am an aspiring author. I have finished several manuscripts and I recently started a steampunk romance of my own. I am loving the process as my first steampunk novel.
I hope to hear lot from you in the future Meljean! 😉
MeljeanApril 18, 2010 at 8:24 am
Heatwave16, I hope it does. And as a rabid fan of WW, I love your avatar.
Carol — the “punk” part will depend on every author, I think. Not everyone will want to write settings where society’s and/or political status quo will be questioned, challenged, or examined. For some, the punk will just be an aesthetic — or maybe they’ll get rid of it altogether, and just have the steam and gadgets.
But the punk part is tricky. And I don’t want to make it seem as if every steampunk includes a rigorous debate about political systems or anything. It’s just that the setting itself forces some of those issues to the forefront, but not (I hope) in a preachy way.
MeljeanApril 18, 2010 at 8:27 am
Bella — CLOCKWORK HEART is by another author, Dru Pagliassotti. My series won’t be out until later this year, and begins with the novella in BURNING UP in August, followed by THE IRON DUKE in October. I hope that clears it up!
MeljeanApril 18, 2010 at 8:28 am
I want to thank everyone again for their wonderful comments, and to Ana and Thea for inviting me to post during their steampunk week.
John J.April 18, 2010 at 8:33 am
So, aside from general world-building, what, in your opinion does a steam-punk romance require, at least in your writing? Any specific types of technologies that you enjoy including, or specific character types that you think fit well into the genre? And, how well do you think it’s being recognized as a new genre/sub-genre, especially now that we have your books along with Kate McAlister’s Steamed series?
MeljeanApril 18, 2010 at 9:09 am
John asks, So, aside from general world-building, what, in your opinion does a steam-punk romance require, at least in your writing? Any specific types of technologies that you enjoy including, or specific character types that you think fit well into the genre? And, how well do you think it’s being recognized as a new genre/sub-genre, especially now that we have your books along with Kate McAlister’s Steamed series?
It requires a happy-ever-after, if it’s romance. I approach steampunk as simply historical science fiction, where the advanced technology is primarily steam- and clockwork-based (I do have nanoagents and biomechanical devices, and plenty of genetic manipulation, but that Horde technology and science isn’t available widely, and so the primary setting uses Victorian-ish tech, instead.) To me, that means influence machines, telegraphic communication, automata, steam engines of every size, coil guns, and so on.
As for character types, they are the same as I’d write in any romance, honestly – strong-willed, smart, flawed characters who can be the happy, go-lucky type, or the brooding and self-despising type. Because of the adventure often involved, a timid character probably wouldn’t be much fun to follow (perhaps funny, but running the edge of annoying) so I’ll probably avoid writing any of those, but otherwise, I think that much of the fun in exploring a world like this is to throw as many different types of characters as possible into it, and seeing how they respond. So I wouldn’t want to limit myself to a couple of types.
And how well do I think it’s being recognized as a subgenre? I honestly don’t know. It’s difficult, because most of the readers that I interact with are online, and so the discussions of steampunk online have at least touched their awareness, even if they don’t yet know WHAT steampunk is. So I think a lot of readers have an idea that it’s out there, but my perception and reality might be wholly different. All of the romance readers offline might not have a clue, aside from seeing KM’s book on the grocery shelves or in the bookstore.
But outside the romance genre, there’s been quite a few books that might have raised that awareness of steampunk/gaslight fantasy in general: Gail Carriger’s series is hugely popular, LEVIATHAN was as well, and Priest’s BONESHAKER has garnered a lot of interest, too. I wouldn’t be surprised if romance readers who’ve enjoyed those books begin looking for similar stuff in the romance shelves.
I do think, though, that “steampunk romance” isn’t going to be steampunk as I define it, or as Ana and Thea define it. Instead, it’s going to be a catch-all term for alternate reality Victorian romance, and it will include paranormal elements, as well. Gail Dayton’s work, Zoe Archer’s upcoming series – by stringent definition, they have steampunk elements rather than being simply steampunk. But it’s just too difficult to expect readers, booksellers, and everyone else to be super-picky about whether it’s REALLY steampunk or not. Sometimes, the “it’s kind of steampunky” has to be good enough.
katiebabsApril 18, 2010 at 9:11 am
I just read Gaily Dayton and the first thing that came into my mind was it had a great steampunk feel but with magic. Heart’s Blood was a great read.
I think in a past life I lived in the last 19th century London.
jennApril 18, 2010 at 1:10 pm
I’ve just started reading steampunk and your post was really informative. Please include me in the giveaway contest.
Julie SwaneyApril 18, 2010 at 4:41 pm
This sounds like a great read. Please enter me in the contest because I would love to win it.
jellybelly82158 at gmail dot com
bella f.April 18, 2010 at 6:26 pm
ugh! I’m so sorry! I completely misunderstood… That’s what I get for trying to participate so late at night 😳
but thank you for answering my question 🙂
SpavApril 18, 2010 at 6:46 pm
The book sounds interesting. I’ve never read any Steampunk book, but I have Souless on my TBR pile.
AnonymousApril 18, 2010 at 6:51 pm
The only “steampunk” novels I’ve read have been The Golden Compass trilogy, which were all pretty amazing. Even with the last steampunk week here, I didn’t pick anything up 🙁 Hopefully I’ll win, the cover looks very nice.
RainaApril 18, 2010 at 6:52 pm
Comment number 67 is mine, sorry!
AnonymousApril 18, 2010 at 7:12 pm
Although I’ve not yet read anything in the genre, I’m very keen to embark on the Steampunk airship. 🙂
Am I just as keen to read The Iron Seas? Hell yeah!
Thanks for stopping by with your post and excellent responses, Meljean!
GillianApril 18, 2010 at 7:13 pm
Oops, comment #69 was me, by the way. *headdesk*
MistiApril 18, 2010 at 7:48 pm
Sounds like I have another book to add to my TBR pile. 🙂
Monday Morning Stepback: Marketing, Blogs, Freedom, Apple « Read React ReviewApril 19, 2010 at 3:38 am
[…] discussion of steampunk over at The Book Smugglers led by guest poster and author Meljean […]
JenPApril 19, 2010 at 7:21 am
Sounds intriguing. I’d love to enter!
MarshaApril 19, 2010 at 7:50 am
Many thanks for this discussion. I’ve flirted with steampunk for a few years now but have felt the affair a trifle intimidating, and sorely lacking in the romance department. No pressure intended, of course, but I’m very much looking forward to this new series. It sounds as if it will be what I’ve hoped to find for some time. Yay!
Losing a Demon and Harrison Winner | Literary EscapismApril 19, 2010 at 9:14 am
[…] Meljean Brook, author of Demon Blood, at the Book Smugglers […]
KatrinaApril 19, 2010 at 11:25 am
I just devoured Girl Genius, and am now simply waiting for school to be over so I can dive into the world of steampunk. I would love to read this book!
ShipaApril 20, 2010 at 5:37 am
I’ve been into the anime/cartoon end of the steampunk genre for a long time. But recently with LEVIATHAN have been getting into the books. I would love to check out CLOCKWORK HEART after Thea’s glowing review.
Meljean: THE IRON DUKE has been on my radar and it good to know that we’ll get a glimpse into the world with the short story in August. 🙂
LauraApril 20, 2010 at 10:05 am
Pick me! Pick me!
meredith gApril 20, 2010 at 2:16 pm
I have never read anything by Meljean Brook, but this new series sounds good. Maybe I’ll start reading some of her other books. I’ve had Clockwork Heart on my radar for a while.
OmNeApril 20, 2010 at 6:36 pm
I’ve yet to read any (recent) steampunk, so I’d love to be able to read this book!
Giada MApril 21, 2010 at 1:10 am
Thank you so much for the intersting post! I’ve never read a steampunk book and I’m very curious. This one sounds AMAZING! Thank you for making this giveaway international.
fabgiada @ gmail.com
Stella (Ex Libris)April 21, 2010 at 1:57 pm
I have to admit that I’m still a newbie to the steampunk world: have Soulless on my nightstand, and can’t wait to discover other great authors and novels in the genre. Since I love the Victorian era, the setting, the clothes, the etiquette and social traditions, steampunk is for me: I love this new and unusual take on the classic setting 🙂
Please enter me, would love to have the chance to read Clockwork Heart.
Karen JensenApril 21, 2010 at 3:37 pm
I have never read a steampunk book, but am always looking for new books to read. 😀
Eva SBApril 21, 2010 at 10:07 pm
What first attracted you to Steampunk?
And would you/have you ever written something in the horror-scifi genre a la Alien?
MeljeanApril 22, 2010 at 1:30 am
Eva wrote, What first attracted you to Steampunk?
And would you/have you ever written something in the horror-scifi genre a la Alien?
I think I was attracted to steampunk because I love historical romances, but can’t write a straight historical to save my life. Throw in a love of adventure and action, and steampunk just seems like a natural fit.
Not horror-scifi, but I’m hoping to go the horror-romance way after I’ve finished with my Guardian series. That will depend on whether I can actually sell it, though 🙂
LlehnApril 22, 2010 at 6:18 am
I’ve never read a steampunk romance novel before. How is it different from other conventional romance novels?
MeljeanApril 22, 2010 at 7:27 am
Llehn asked, I’ve never read a steampunk romance novel before. How is it different from other conventional romance novels?
Aside from the worldbuilding (historical science fiction) it’s not any different than a conventional romance, or a paranormal romance, or a historical romance. You have the same elements that need to work: the main characters need chemistry, they need a believable relationship arc, and they need a happy-ever-after.
The only difference is that they are doing all of it in a steampunk setting.
EttaApril 22, 2010 at 9:26 am
I’m fairly new to Steampunk, but I find it fascinating, and your new series sounds very intriguing. I’m looking forward to it.
Clockwork Heart has been on my radar since it was reviewed during the last Steampunk week.
KobatoApril 23, 2010 at 8:36 am
The book sounds good. I would like to read it.
RaelenaApril 23, 2010 at 3:28 pm
I have been wanting to read this book for awhile now, especially since I have always found Steampunk interesting.
Nastassia D.April 23, 2010 at 6:20 pm
I’ve been hearing a lot about steampunk recenly, but I’ve never read a steampunk romance before, this book sounds good, I’d love to give it a try.
KathrynApril 23, 2010 at 7:01 pm
Ooh, that sounds very interesting! I’ve only just started to try steampunk, and this sounds like an excellent book.